After a successful opening weekend for both teams, Week 2 will bring us an early Big Ten-Pac-12 clash between No. 17 Nebraska and UCLA.
This will be UCLA's first opportunity to show us just how much it has improved—but beating the Cornhuskers will be no easy feat. Nebraska is coming off a 49-20 dismantling of Southern Mississippi in which it scored two touchdowns in each of the first three quarters.
The Bruins, meanwhile, were impressive enough in their own opener, equaling Nebraska's offensive output in a 49-24 victory over Rice and shutting out the Owls over the entire second half.
But dealing with the Big Ten is nothing like dealing with a Conference USA opponent, so the Bruins will need to step it up several notches if they want to have a chance at knocking off their first Top 25 opponent of the season.
Here's where and when to watch.
Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
When: Saturday, September 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Betting Line (via Bovada): TBA
- Slotback Ian Taubler is questionable due to an injured ankle.
- Defensive end Sam Tai is out for the season due to a knee injury.
- Safety Dietrich Riley is out for the season due to neck surgery.
Nebraska Injury Report
- Tight end Ben Cotton "may play this week," according to Nebraska Radio Network, after leaving the opener against Southern Miss with a rib injury.
- Running back Rex Burkhead is questionable, according to The Associated Press (h/t ESPN), after leaving the opener with a left MCL sprain.
AP/USA Today Top 25 Poll Implications
After a decisive opening-week win over Southern Miss, Nevada is sitting pretty, but a win against a historically strong Pac-12 program will be necessary to maintain its position in the polls for another week. A win here against UCLA on the road could even help the Cornhuskers approach the top 10, depending on which other teams lose.
Conversely, a victory over a Top 25 Big Ten opponent would be huge for UCLA. It wouldn't push them into the polls quite yet, but a win here, followed by another one before the Pac-12 schedule begins, could be enough.
What They're Saying
Though UCLA's opening-week throttling of Rice was a big positive, the game didn't bring all positives.
The Bruins missed three extra-point attempts in the win, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Peter Yoon, which obviously isn't going to fly once UCLA starts facing the tougher teams.
Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was making his NCAA debut against the Owls and will have a chat with head coach Jim Mora this week in order to ensure he's maintaining his confidence. He did, by the way, connect on two extra points and a field goal in the win.
Of the mistakes, Mora told Yoon:
We recognized some technique errors that we’ll get fixed this week. It was primarily up front. It’s little things, correctable things, but things that need to get corrected now. Pad level, foot placement. Really minor things that can turn into huge, huge issues if you don’t get them corrected.
Meanwhile, on Nebraska's end, most of the commentary has been resoundingly positive—which is cause for concern to the Cornhuskers, according to the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated). They don't want to get too cocky, even after compiling 632 yards of total offense, which is the most since head coach Bo Pelini started running things in 2008, according to the AP.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck told the AP:
I don't want to be building our team up to something it's not. It's one game. We have a long ways still to go in the season, and we have to stay humble and work hard.
Caution is always the best approach after Week 1.
UCLA Player to Watch
Running back Johnathan Franklin exploded for 214 yards in the season opener and scored three touchdowns. That leaves him with 2,883 career rushing yards, according to the Los Angeles Times' Chris Foster, and he's 848 shy of matching Gaston Green's school record. According to the AP (via ESPN), he scored on runs of 74 and 78 yards.
The numbers from Saturday may seem gaudy, but Franklin has done better before: He rushed for a career-high 216 yards against Washington State in 2010, according to the AP.
Nobody's expecting Franklin to rush for upwards of 200 yards every game—he'd likely be just fine with hitting the 100-yard mark—but Saturday's opener does leave little doubt that Franklin is going to be able to catch Green.
Nebraska Player to Watch
Quarterback Taylor Martinez has taken his fair share of heat in the offseason—and throughout most of his career—for his lack of consistency. But if he can keep up the way he played in this year's opener, nobody is going to be complaining about anything he does. Ever.
Martinez threw for a career-high 354 yards against Southern Miss on Saturday, with five touchdown passes.
The fact that the quarterback has been the subject of immense scrutiny and criticism for much of his career—mostly due to his unusual throwing motion—hasn't been lost on his teammates or his coaching staff. After Saturday's win, Beck told the AP:
I think for a while I was probably his only friend. Just how he gets criticized all the time. Today he'll be up for the Heisman. Tomorrow you guys will want to ...
If Martinez can channel those perpetual slights into performances like the one he had on Saturday, this team is going to be just fine in 2012.
The question for both of these teams right now—and the question that is likely to persist for the entirety of the season—is this: Can they keep it going?
The Cornhuskers have famously struggled with consistency, particularly down the stretch last season, when they traded wins and losses over the final six games of the season.
You would think that now would be the time for the Cornhuskers to pull it together, given their experience on offense, and if they can, they can make a serious run at another BCS bowl.
Meanwhile, the Bruins are hoping to change the course of recent history under Jim Mora, who made the jump from the pros to the NCAA in order to coach the Bruins. Hopefully, his time with UCLA will end better than his time with the Seahawks: He was fired after the 2009 campaign.
If he can keep the team winning the way it did on Saturday, he should be just fine. But that is a big "if."
Prediction: Nebraska Wins
It's always risky to pick in the Cornhuskers' favor based on the way Martinez is playing, because you never know what kind of game he's going to have the next time out—but he looked too good in the opener, and this is his third year as the starter. He has the experience and talent to continue to lead this team toward greatness.